Syrians stuck around Aleppo as evacuation deal stalls: monitor, activists

A man walks near buses carrying people evacuated from the two villages of Kefraya and al-Foua after an agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army at insurgent-held al-Rashideen

At least 100 people were killed in the blast which hit a convoy of buses trying to escape the war-torn area yesterday.

The buses had been held up by a disagreement between the two sides about how many rebel gunmen could be evacuated.

Pictures posted on state media showed what appeared to be the aftermath of the explosion, with bodies lying on the ground and fires belching out thick black plumes of smoke.

Syrian state media said at least 39 were killed, including children.

A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers.

The blast struck buses of people leaving their towns as part of a rebel-regime swap.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

The SANA news agency reported that the blast went off in the al-Rashideen area of Aleppo, where buses and ambulances were parked for more than 24 hours to transport 5,000 residents of the Shiite villages of Kefraya and al-Foua'a.

During a televised interview, Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a suicide bomber claimed he was carrying food items and blew himself up in a fuel station. It is not clear who was responsible for the bombing, but Sunni jihadist groups, including the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida, operate in the area and routinely attack Shi'ites, whom they consider apostates. The residents and rebels from Madaya and Zabadani arrived late April 15 in rebel-held territory in Idlib province, where they were greeted with embraces and shots fired into the air. "We're sad and angry about what has happened". "They were evacuating under a deal contingent on residents of two pro-rebel towns being allowed to evacuate".

"While the United Nations was not involved in this agreement or evacuation process, we are ready to scale up our support to evacuees", Stephen O'Brien, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.

"We must draw from this not only anger, but renewed determination to reach all the innocent children throughout Syria with help and comfort", he said. Once they are out, both towns will be completely emptied of their populations, and the rebels will take over, after besieging the towns for years.

Critics say the string of evacuations, which could see some 30,000 people moved across battle lines over the next 60 days, amounts to forced displacement along political and sectarian lines.

Rebels say Damascus breached the terms of the deal brokered by Iran and Qatar, accusing the government of trying to bring out more loyalist fighters from than agreed.

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